Thursday, May 13, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: Nonviolence is negotiation

Some say the field of conflict resolution depends upon negotiation. True. Then they teach that civil resistance is what civil society does when unjust rulers refuse to negotiate. True. They teach that therefore teaching from a conflict resolution perspective is mutually exclusive from teaching from the civil resistance perspective. False.

Here is an excerpt from what Dr. King wrote in response to white clergy who criticized him for committing civil resistance in Birmingham in 1963:

"You may well ask: 'Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?' You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth."

In our Conflict Resolution studies we learn from the Harvard Negotiation Project about the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, the BATNA. This is exactly what civil resistance is. Not only do ordinary citizens have the power to change their BATNA during a conflict, good campaigners are as transparent about it as possible, so that the BATNA can be, in some cases, nonviolent deterrent power. A transparent campaign with a robust civil resistance component or potential will also change the BATNA for the ruler, which alters all conflict calculations.

Principled negotiation consists of four basic principles:

~Separate the people from the problem
~Focus on interests, not positions
~Invent options for mutual gain
~Insist on using objective criteria

Principled negotiation, which is one core method we teach in Conflict Resolution, is precisely what a good civil society campaigner incorporates into any civil resistance strategy. While Saul Alinsky may have advocated calling some of the people the problem, Gandhi would not have done so, nor did King, nor Cesar Chavez. OK, Serb nonviolence is an exception, with Otpur youth chanting for Slobodan Milosevic to "Save Serbia: kill yourself!" They used it to emphasize their determination to separate Milosevic from nationalism, and from national pride, and from Serbian self-interest. It seemed to work there.

Focusing on interests rather than positions leaves room for satyagraha but not for duragraha, that is, remaining open to good ideas for collaborative agreements that benefit everyone rather than squatting obdurately on one fixed position is stronger conflict resolution and more adaptive civil resistance. Roger Fisher and Bill Ury are careful to advise against compromising on principle and preparing to collaborate on practically anything else.

This leads to inventing options for mutual gain, and if we ever see peace in Palestine Israel, that is how it will happen. Indeed, that is how almost every successful civil resistance is concluded and how every successful mediation happens. The overlap is tremendous. When civil society is successful at isolating the dictator from his own armed forces, nonviolence can actually be seen not as negotiating with the dictator, but rather with other constituencies, and when all are satisfied that they will gain more than they will lose by working together, change happens.

Insisting on using objective criteria is precisely how recruitment in civil resistance campaigns happens. When police dogs bit African American children in Birmingham, or when the fire department blasted children with firehoses so powerful they would strip the bark off trees, most Americans were galvanized to support the minority struggling with dignity and nonviolence for basic human and civil rights. When nonviolence is the only tactic, it is much easier to frame all campaigns in this exact fashion, a search for what is fair.

So teaching civil resistance can be regarded as a component of teaching conflict resolution, or conflict resolution can be seen as an element in the civil resistance body of theory and set of tools.

No comments: